HANOI, Sept. 5 (Xinhua) -- Saturday is a special day for nine-year-old Nguyen Gia Bao from Hoang Mai district, Vietnamese capital city of Hanoi, as he officially entered the new academic year and became a fourth grader.
Bao would experience a school opening ceremony unlike any that he had attended before due to the COVID-19 epidemic that forced a record-long break for Vietnamese students.
"The school opening event is one of my favorite occasions at school," said Bao. "It's so exciting to meet my friends again and often there used to be a lot of activities and performances. But this year, our teacher told us that many parts will be dropped due to COVID-19, which is quite a pity for me."
Sept. 5 marks the day for all Vietnamese pupils to join the back-to-school festival across the country. It is a long tradition in Vietnam to officially commence a new academic year on this day, although the first day of the school year may vary among schools and localities.
Normally, pupils will attend a ceremony that lasts two to three hours with several activities. This year, Bao and many others would attend a shorter and simpler ceremony with fewer activities and more precautionary measures against COVID-19, including having temperature checks and maintaining a safe distance.
Bao's school is among thousands in Hanoi to adjust their school-opening activities due to the epidemic.
With more than 2 million pupils in the city, Hanoi's department of education and training has issued detailed guidance on COVID-19 prevention measures for the opening ceremony as well as the new academic year.
Accordingly, all staff, teachers and pupils of primary schools must have temperature checks, wear facemasks and maintain a safe distance at the opening ceremony.
Prior to the ceremony, schools must conduct disinfection on the whole campus and classrooms, and be equipped with items like hand sanitizers, thermometers, medicine, and facemasks among other medical supplies.
Before the back-to-school event, Bao's mother Le Bao Chau was constantly updated by his teacher via a group chat with pupils' parents on Zalo, a Vietnamese messaging app, which was to inform them about COVID-19 prevention measures.
"We were reminded of preparing protective items for the children and not gathering in crowds in front of the school while waiting to pick them up," said Chau.
Based on the instructions, Chau placed some extra facemasks in her son's schoolbag before checking his temperature one more time to make sure he was totally well to take part in the ceremony.
She was also asked to have her son fill in a mandatory health declaration form that includes a survey on the epidemiological history of the children, which includes countries that they had been to, whether they had been in contact with COVID-19 patients, or any suspected health symptoms that they had had in the last 21 days.
The mother of two said she was relieved to know that children could head back school on time and that schools attached great importance to children's safety amid COVID-19.
Nguyen Thi Thu, a 27-year-old teacher with the Newton 5 Primary and Secondary School in Hanoi, was also busy coordinating and preparing for her school's opening ceremony that will last no longer than 45 minutes.
"To ensure safety for all participants, we will arrange distanced seating for the pupils, as our large school yard can enable safe distance for all," Thu said, adding that the parade to welcome new first graders would be canceled to limit physical contact among people.
As of Saturday evening, Vietnam has recorded 1,049 cases of COVID-19 infection with 35 deaths from the disease, according to the Ministry of Health.
The period from late July to late August was a tough time for Vietnam as the country had to counter an epidemic outbreak from an unknown source after nearly three months without domestic cases.
With swift action, the daily new cases reported in Vietnam have been under 10 from Aug. 21 and the country has managed to contain the outbreaks, bringing life back to normal before students return to school in September.
"None of us can assume that this or that area is completely free of COVID-19, but we still have to continue our lives and kids need to head back to school with new normalcy," said Chau. Enditem